Amidst all the recent brouhaha about Obama's secretly being a Opus dei priest, Paris Hilton's newfound fondness for chihuahua meat and the never-ending breaking-news of Kallu Kalmadi's Next Big Scandal, I, in a rare moment of lucidity and clarity of thought brought out by these gut wrenching human element stories, was reminded of why I has started this blog in the first place: To write about things that actually affected and touched the lives of normal people , like you(If you are a regular, dont worry, I dont mean you, of course. You are about as normal as a ray at grazing incidence) and me(heh, that is just to complete the phrase). Stories and philosophical thoughts that people would relate to, that serve a purpose in society: of bringing to attention some existing malaise, some crooked institution and put a spotlight on it, start a debate, mobilize public opinion. And thanks to that epiphany, I would like to write about that most antiquated and, for the Z-next generation(I dont know which is the current one. I think I was the Y-generation, my dad was Generation X--), the most bizarre of all familial practices: 'paer chchoona'.
One of the major hurdles in getting this blog out was to find the english transliteration of this activity. Somehow, a translation("touching the leg/legs") reminds one more of Gangly-Long-Legs Deepika Padukone than a wizened old man with fake dentures; and the essence, as you would expect, is thus lost. Transliteration, too , wasn't perfect in the end and the imperative form "XYZ ke paer choo+o (the "choo" rhymes with glue and the "o" bringing up the rear is as the singleton letter) is tougher still to communicate via english text. But with the audience and I on the same page, and the imagery of the act intact (except for the ones with a leg fetish) let us proceed.
The act of paer chchoona is as old as the act of sucking up, which, as has been proven by recent archaeological findings of primate fossils, is very old indeed. As for its prevalence, it again mirrors the other quite well, which , needless to say, is omnipresent. In all its avatars and forms, this could go on endlessly, and so for the sake of brevity(one of my strengths) I will restrict my tirade as to how it affects the 15-25 segment of the demography.
For young, impressionable, mild mannered Calvin... sorry, yours truly, surrounded by a characteristically prolific maternal and paternal sides, bursting at the seams with uncles, aunts, grandmother's foofaas, pseudo nanajees, uncle in laws, aunts outside the law and even distant cousins, uncles and foofeejees, all residing in a 5 mile radius in one of civilizational backwaters, it didn't take long for the rite of Paer chchoona to invade my subconcious and cuddle up cosily in one corner , directing behavior for many a year before an internal audit found it out. Long summer vacations were invariably inaugurated by a grand assembly of all known and unknown relations , arranged in rank and file according to seniority, double their number of feet minus 1(one Old Timer had lost his in the Great War of 1857, or so he claimed; and counting the wrinkles on his pug like face, he must have been quite old even back then) laid out in rows upon rows of Paragon wearing appendages, all set to be touched, hands at the ready to either brush kindly on the top of the head or in a classic Cheek Pincher stance, to catch the blessing seeker unawares in a pinch to the death . A favorite of betelnut chewing aunts with equally abhorrent talons to boot, this act of human rights violation involved letting the blessing seeker feel the perfunctory brush against the frontal lobe and just as the quarry thought that the proceedings were over and that he could move on to the next set, the hands swooped down and rendering all evasive tactics futile, pinched young cheeks like Mr Gill having a go at female bottoms. I would like to bring to the attention of the discerning public that the Paer chchoona thingy is a crucial component of the attack, for we are caught in a vulnerable pose which makes evasive action impossible to effect and I strongly suspect that there is a strategic thought process behind this seemingly innocuous coincidence.
Relatively infrequent visits by relatives are met by flurries of bending over forwards; in case of sibling infested households, and small visiting contingents, the whole thing needs to be rehearsed carefully and streaming of participants should be smooth and the ceremony conducted in large open spaces , otherwise resulting in demand supply inequilibrium. This, in turn, leads to a major fracas, in milder form restricted to bumped elbows, in more serious form, head concussions, memory loss and death. And for what?All in the name of touching legs.
If home visits are mere skirmishes, marriages and other massive social get-togethers have to be the analogous World Wars. In such cases, it is futile, especially for the youngest bracket to think and ponder whether the man/woman in front is a relative worthy of a genuflection or a mere "namaste" would suffice. He would be well advised not to think but fall at the mere sight of ugly toes sticking out. Waiting for signals from an already overloaded(and possibly outdated) facial recognition system in his brain or facial twitches from a kindly mom or dad, inevitably lead to a major social faux pas, involving an outraged Toothless , letting out profanities on the "ku-sanskaari" younger generation and in some instances, pointing fingers at lax parental regulations for instilling values and bemoaning the going out of fashion of corporal punishment. Nothing good ever came out of skipping a valid pair of feet at such meetings. But more on the consequences later.
Marriage ceremonies are happy hunting ground for disgruntled old timers, a yearly convention if you will, to train the wayward youth in old values, cultural ethos and what-nots. Be forewarned, for they look at such small slip ups and instead of a long protracted investigation about whether you remember the 12 names of Durgavataars(or is it 13? Almost time for the yearly revision to commence :D ) it would be best to set your homing beacons sensitivity levels to "So Low as to be non existent" and fall down dandvat at every opportunity that presents itself to you.
A major problem with "paer chchoona" and its affiliated activities is to authenticate a candidate. If the predicate for authentication is "blood relation", how far a blood relation, does foofa's chachi's neice's granddaughter's sister in law work? The lack of a central database is disconcerting in itself. If you follow seniority of rank rather than of age, would you touch the feet of your so-called mausi who is barely a year old? If you include friendly acquaintances, how would you respond to a girl who you think is quite hot, falling down prostrate asking for your blessings as an elder brother and ask how to prepare for JEE? Quite a dampener, wouldn't you say?. And then there is the quintessential question of the twilight region of age: with people of plus minus 5 years of age, you are never really sure whether you do a shoulder bump, a nod of acknowledgement or a paer chchoona maneuver, especially in front of those with whom you have a yawning generational chasm. The ambiguity in the whole thing is frustrating and the margin for error , a wrong on-the-spot decision, is quite small.
Then there are the local variants of the practice. While the practice is dying out slowly in a few isolated pockets, the MTV generation has done well in working out a compromise, moving away from the conventional, two handed, multi fingered touch to a I-am-too-cool-to-do-that--single-finger,-tickle-the-knee action. With the body bent away from the subject and feet firmly planted on the ground, the pose gives enough space for a speedy exits in case of the aforementioned Cheek Pinch attack. The more subservient among us have to do with the dandvat pranaam, that village elders hailing from the time of the battle of Plassey insist upon, anything less being considered a sacrilege. Most ,however, are quite content with the two-fingered approach.
All and all, a breathtakingly diverse and truly enervating experience for an inexperienced person who has wandered into ancient territory. A bit more of clarification in rules governing the maneuver and a bit of leeway in terms of errors of omission and commission would go a long way in getting the MTV generation to go the whole 9 yards, or in this case, go down on you.